But where some may see a ghost town, others see a blank slate.
Nipton went up for sale last year with a $5 million price tag, and last week, Lang found a buyer: American Green Inc., one of the country’s leading makers of cannabis products.
The company, which announced the sale on Thursday, says it plans to convert Nipton into a weed lover’s oasis in the desert, complete with marijuana retail outlets, cultivation facilities and even cannabis mineral baths. In American Green’s words, it will be a “cannabis-friendly hospitality destination” and a “hub for the production of cannabis-based products.”
The sale is still in escrow and the final price was not disclosed. Negotiations took more than four months, according to American Green, which claims it’s the first company to buy an entire town with an eye toward cashing in on cannabis tourism. The company said it took an interest in Nipton in part because of its position on a rail line and highway that run from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Salt Lake City. The sale includes the town’s businesses, a recreational vehicle park, a schoolhouse and two houses on 120 acres of land.
American Green executives said in a statement they intend to make Nipton energy-independent and tap into a nearby aquifer to produce bottled water infused with CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabis compound that has been shown to have some medical benefits. Makers of marijuana edibles and cannabis extracts have already expressed interest in setting up facilities, the statement said, and other attractions could include a bed-and-breakfast, artist-in-residency programs and culinary events.
The company’s leaders envision the town at the forefront of a “green rush” in the cannabis industry. Hopefully, project manager Stephen Shearin told Bloomberg, the effort will inspire similar outposts elsewhere.
“We thought that showing that there was a viable means of having a cannabis-friendly municipality and further making it energy independent could be a way of really inspiring folks to say, ‘Why can’t we do that here?’” he said.
If anything, American Green’s plans fit a sort of tradition of experimentation that has been part of Nipton’s history since its founding more than a century ago.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nipton started as a camp for wagon trains and ranchers crossing the Ivanpah Valley in the early 1900s, then transformed into a railroad and mining outpost when train tracks connected it to Salt Lake City, 480 miles northeast, and Los Angeles, 230 miles southwest. The town was transferred to a homesteader in 1940 and passed through six different owners over the following four decades, according to the Review-Journal.
In 1985, a geologist named Gerald Freeman — husband of the current owner — purchased Nipton for a reported $200,000. At the time it was a ragtag crossroads with no inhabitants, but Freeman told the Los Angeles Times he saw “a little place to make a home.” He set out slowly developing the town, refurbishing its hotel and general store, building a park for RVs and campers and eventually installing solar panels for power. Over time, it became a popular oddity in that part of the desert, drawing bikers, hikers, campers and other curious travelers. The year-round population typically hovers around two dozen people.
Around 2010, Freeman embarked on a project to turn Nipton into a hamlet for clean energy, as the New York Times has reported. In addition to an 80-kilowatt solar array, Freeman planted eucalyptus trees for biomass energy and built a group of canvas “eco cabins” with wood-burning stoves and swamp coolers.
By 2016, Freeman was facing health problems that prevented him from working, so he and Lang, his wife, decided to sell the town.
“We don’t have anybody to take it over,” Lang told the Review-Journal in January 2016. “It’s been a passion and a love for him, but we have to let go. There’s so much that can be done. Someone needs to come in with a lot of energy. It is such a special place.”
The couple added that they hoped to sell it to “someone who’s committed to sustainability of the human race.”
Freeman didn’t live to see the sale. He died in September 2016 at 83, according to the Review-Journal. His obituary described Nipton as a “labor of love.”
After the town’s sale was made public last week, some locals seemed to welcome the idea of a cannabis company taking it over. Carl Cavaness, a recent Nipton transplant, told the Desert Sun that he could see marijuana benefiting the town.
“I thought that would be a good idea for here. We get a lot of traffic through here that doesn’t stop. … There’s a ton of money in it,” Cavaness said. His one concern, he added, was whether he’d be able to continue renting RV space from the current owner.
Lang told the Associated Press that her late husband wouldn’t have objected to American Green’s plans to build a cannabis-friendly outpost.
“I think he would find a lot of humor in that,” she said.
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